CARICOM-US discuss threat of lawsuit over queen conch, and IUU fishing

Officials from the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the United States advanced talks in Washington last week at the seventh annual meeting of the CARICOM-US Trade and Investment Council, on several key concerns affecting trade between the US and the region, chief among them being the threat of a lawsuit by US-based NGOs over the harvesting of queen conch for trade. The threat of the suit is of great concern to the region, which exports roughly US$185 million worth of conch meat a year.

In February 2016, WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals notified the Secretary of Commerce and the Administrator of NOAA of their intention to sue the Department of Commerce, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service / NOAA Fisheries, and their officers and directors over the government’s decision back in 2014 not to list the queen conch as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), which was represented at the meeting by its executive director, Milton Haughton, maintained that the petition is unjustified, as it is based on outdated and erroneous information. A listing that the species is endangered would result in an outright ban, while a listing that it is threatened would lead to more stringent export regulations, among other measures.

The NGO that wants to challenge the decision of the US federal authorities is reputed to have a 77% success rate in lawsuits against the US government.

In studying the impact of litigation by the NGO, US researchers, Dr Ryan M. Yonk of the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice at the Southern Utah University and Dr Randy T. Simmons of the Department of Economics and Finance at Utah State University, found that the litigation, which has mostly been over land issues in the US, could jeopardize industries representing over US$3 billion in local economies.

However, US authorities have indicated that they will defend their position on the queen conch. CARICOM states will, meanwhile, be monitoring this situation closely.

At the Washington meeting, the parties also discussed US measures to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and their potential impact on the region. A presidential task force was established two years ago to develop recommendations for “a Comprehensive Framework to Combat Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing and Seafood Fraud.”

CARICOM noted that the new measures being introduced to combat IUU fishing and seafood fraud could have significant negative consequences for the export of fish and seafood from CARICOM to the US market, since importers in the USA and by extension exporters from CARICOM countries targeting the US market, would be required to implement administrative systems to certify that fish and fishery products entering the US market are not from IUU sources.

However, the measures being implemented by the United States could also create opportunities for fish and fish products exported from the region, by reducing the occurrence of IUU fishing in the region by third states and unfair competition.

In the recent meeting, CARICOM officials laid out both their concerns and expectations to the US representatives, including the need for support for fish traders and government fisheries departments so that they could make the necessary reforms to comply with the new US requirements for international trade.

Caribbean News Now